Nearly three dozen students from the Philadelphia Public School District graduated from Penn Charter’s five-week long ‘College Prep’ summer program on Friday.
The celebration included not only recognition of each student, achievement awards and a Quaker prayer service, but a screening of a student-made documentary that highlighted the goals of the program, which is designed to enrich selected inner-city students and create motivation for higher learning.
Students went through weeks of SAT prep and essay writing courses; they even got a real taste of college life while spending a week living in college dorms at Lincoln University in Philadelphia.
22-year-old teaching assistant Snider Desir looked on with pride and nostalgia at Friday’s graduation, recalling the time when he graduated from the very same program as a student at Olney High School.
Now equipped with a biology degree from Kutztown University, Desir will be heading to Virginia Tech to begin his graduate work in the Fall where he will research the reproductive nature of cancer cells.
Before beginning his career, Desir felt this summer was his “last chance” to return to ‘College Prep’ and was selected to become one of this summer’s two teaching interns.
Desir is a model of perseverance.
His parents died when he was six-years-old, just after his family immigrated from Haiti. He spent many years living with family members before eventually settling down in Philadelphia with his older brother.
He began attending Olney High School and as a junior, a counselor recommended him to College Prep.
Desir says that his basic learning skills were not up to the program’s standards but the teacher’s high expectations pushed him to realize his academic potential. He now attributes his collegiate success to ‘College Prep’.
As an intern, Desir found himself drawn to students who were struggling. As a student, encouragement from staff and peers motivated him. Determined to give the same to this year’s group, Desir would often stay hours after the day’s activities had ended, helping students get a handle on the program’s demanding workload.
His favorite project this year was in technology class when he assisted the kids in creating a fish tank animation using only Powerpoint, a difficult task not only for the kids, but for any programmer.
In extra time spent with the students, Desir started to develop a special bond with the students.
“Some of the conversations I’ve had with them were about the schools they go to or about other things they realize I understood; I tell them I was in the same boat,” said Desir.
Seeing where they are now and watching them grow, Desir is confident that the College Prep program will provide students with the tools they need to succeed.
The program’s director and Penn Charter’s Chair of Social Studies, Lee Payton, was surprised by his own emotional reaction at Friday’s graduation ceremony.
Payton was also celebrating his first year as director of ‘College Prep’ which began four decades ago in 1971. When Payton interviewed Desir for the intern position, he says he was impressed with Desir’s desire to give back and was itching to put Desir in front of students as a model of success for the program.
At graduation, Payton and Desir were struck watching the documentary that six of this year’s students had produced. It not only highlighted the program’s themes, persistence and precision, but the dreams of the students themselves, and Desir could see a bit of himself in each one.